Officials debate Growler lawsuit

State Rep. Norma Smith is the latest elected representative to criticize state Attorney General Bob Ferguson for filing a lawsuit against the Navy for what he’s characterized as an inadequate analysis of the impacts of EA-18G Growler jets on Whidbey Island.

At the same time, Ferguson, a series of Whidbey residents and at least one elected official have argued that the lawsuit isn’t an attack on the Navy’s mission, but is strictly a challenge to the legality of the way the Navy predicted jet noise and its impacts.

After completing an Environmental Impact Statement, the Navy decided to increase the number of Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island by 36 and route 80 percent of aircraft carrier landing practice to the small and rural Outlying Field Coupeville, which represented a fourfold increase.

Ferguson filed a federal lawsuit against the Navy earlier this month.

Smith, a Republican representative from Clinton, released a statement this week, calling Ferguson’s lawsuit “a misguided attack on our military community.”

“While all Washingtonians should be respected for their perspectives on this issue and the many others that are before us as a state,“ Smith’s statement says, “I believe the attorney general’s lawsuit will have a chilling effect on constructive dialogue and solutions going forward. More troubling, however, is that it could also have very real consequences for the men and women who are trained here to protect and defend our country.”

Smith said that citizens would be better served if Ferguson focused less on the “sound of freedom” and instead acted to resolve “the many legal crises within state agencies that beg for increased oversight and accountability.”

Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns sent a letter to Ferguson this week, calling on him to dismiss the lawsuit. He claimed that the majority of Whidbey residents “do not consider Navy noise to be a bad noise.”

State Sen. Barbara Bailey and Christine Cribb, director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, wrote opinion pieces in the paper last week, criticizing Ferguson for the lawsuit and accusing him of being politically motivated.

On Wednesday, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson called on the director of the Island County Economic Development Council to speak out against Ferguson.

The next day, however, Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson submitted a letter to the South Whidbey Record, saying that the importance of the Navy to national security and the region’s economy isn’t being questioned by the attorney general. The lawsuit is focused on the process used in developing the Environmental Impact Statement

“He simply said the Navy must follow the same rules as any other entity in an EIS process,” she wrote, “and identify the actual impacts of expanding their activities in our region.”

In addition, several residents wrote lengthy letters explaining the logic behind the lawsuits and criticizing Ferguson’s naysayers for what they see as hypocrisy and ignorance. A number of them pointed to a study conducted by a economist a few of years ago that found the Navy costs taxpayers millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, declining property value and adverse health effects.

During the Navy’s environmental review process, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks Service and separately the Department of the Interior — which is the umbrella agency for National Parks — questioned the adequacy of the Navy’s analysis of the Growler noise impacts.

The state Health Department submitted comments during the environmental impact process concluding there’s evidence that the kind of noise Growlers make has health impacts and negative effects on children’s cognitive development. The Navy largely dismissed the concerns as inconclusive.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen was one of several elected officials who asked the Navy to conduct real-world noise monitoring instead of relying on computer models. After the Navy refused, he added provisions to the House National Defense Authorization Act for real-time noise monitoring at Navy installations.

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